We recently had the chance to chat wth Michael McCarron, founder of Punk Out - a non-profit organization dedicated to the cross section of the LGBT communitiy and the alternative music scene, providing resources and support for those going through the coming out process, and encouraging musicians who identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender to be more visible.
Why did you start Punk Out?
I’m a high school teacher by day and I’ve always been really passionate about teenagers, and also music, and the alternative music scene. I’ve written for several websites, I ran my own website, I was the Music Research Director for Property of Zack, so I’ve always been really active in the scene; and then on top of that, I’m gay myself. I always wanted to do something in the guise of what To Write Love On Her Arms does, I think they’re a fantastic organization. But I always wanted to focus this primarily on helping out teenagers and young adults who identify as LGBT, and I was given that opportunity when I moved in with my roommate (Jessica Weber, Punk Out Co-Director) who has a lot of experience in non-profits, and her response was, "Yeah, we should totally do this". And it just sprouted out of that.
Was there something missing in either the LGBT or music communities that you were trying to fill?
Yeah, I think there was. There’s a lot of organizations that deal with the alternative music scene that focus on causes that kind of surround the LGBT community, but there’s not a specific organization that helps out punk rockers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The other thing we’re trying to focus on is that a lot of organizations help fans first, and we were always musician-centric. We want to help out the musicians first, because I think oftentimes they get lost in the wayside. Through my work for the better part of the last 6 or 7 years I’ve met a lot of people in the music community that have come out to me and say, "You know, I don’t feel comfortable in this scene being who I am." At Punk Out we’ve always held the mantra that if we can help the musician, the musician can do the hard work for us by helping the fans.
At Punk Out we’ve always held the mantra that if we can help the musician, the musician can do the hard work for us by helping the fans.
What was Jessica’s non-profit background before Punk Out?
When she was in college she started her own TWLOHA chapter, so she has great experience in not only working with non-profits and getting them off the ground – and we’re modeled after them, I think they have a model that really works in our music community. We do a lot of things that are mirrored off what they do, and Jess comes with that experience. They have to go through tons of training to start their own chapters, she had to fly down to Florida - there was a whole bunch of stuff that she had to do. And on top of that, she’s done a lot of grant work, and a lot of independent projects herself; she did a cross-country trip where she received grant money from the state of Pennsylvania. She has a lot of experience organizing and implementing projects and ideas. She was the perfect person to partner with, plus we live together and our office is our apartment, so it’s really convenient for us to go about that.
Did you have an idea of where you would get the funding for Punk Out?
We had the idea at first of starting with crowd-sourcing and seeing where that goes. A lot of the funding has come out of our own pockets so far. From there our next step is to focus on grants and seeing what we’re eligible for.
You mentioned working for Property of Zack, what other connections did you have within the music community?
I worked for Property of Zack for 4 years. I started off as a reviewer there, and then I became Music Research Director, and I was the primary liaison between the industry-side and the website-side. I built a lot of relationships doing that. And then I also wrote for Under The Gun Review, and those websites all work in the AbsoluteVoices conglomerate so we all had an opportunity to talk to each other build a lot of relationships that way. Also, working as a teacher, I meet a lot of gay students, and it’s a great opportunity for us to bridge those gaps.
Where did the idea for the "What Are You?" project come from?
That’s been so much fun. That comes from Jess. She did a photography project where she asked people if there was one thing they could tell the world, what would it be? She thought, "Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a project called 'What Are You'?” The idea being that oftentimes when you ask a member of the LGBT community, "what are you?", the people asking that question are expecting them to say "Oh, I’m gay", or "Oh, I’m bi", something like that – but in reality what you find is a lot of people identify as something other than what their sexuality is. And that’s what we were trying to highlight, this idea that, yeah, I’m gay, but if you came up to me and asked me, "Mike, what are you?" I would tell you, "I’m an educator. I’m a non-profit organizer. I’m a music lover." All of those things would come way before I even mention my sexuality. The idea is to shift the view of our community off of the sexuality, and more on what the individual is personally, how they identify themselves.
A selection from the What Are You? project.
Are there artists that you are looking to collaborate with?
My dream would be to work with Tegan and Sara. But that’s a pipe dream. I said that I would quit everything if that ever happened. We’ve worked with Drew Justice of On My Honor, just recently Jordan Black from Like Pacific. We’re really open to working with anybody. We’re not focused on whether or not someone is a member of the LGBT community, our allies are probably the most important part of this whole project because they represent the majority of people. So we’re looking to work with any artist, big or small, that wants to help get our message out.
Be Punk. Be Out. You can be both of those things.
In five years, what are the kinds of projects you are looking to do? What resources do you hope to provide?
We have a one-year plan and a five-year plan right now. Our ultimate goal is that we would love to get our name out there in any way, shape, or form. We want to be at festivals, we want to be at Warped Tour, we want to have bands wearing our t-shirts - getting our name out there to show that there’s a whole different sub section of our alternative music community that isn’t being heard. We want to build networks with other bands and artists, as well as labels and managers.
Our whole goal is to try to help artists who are in the closet come out and be more visible. By them being more visible, it makes fans more comfortable in who they are. I think back to when I was a teenager and I was in the closet, and music was so important to me - how my world would have changed if one of my favorite artists had come out as gay. It would have changed everything for me. And that’s the basis for this entire organization. There’s so many great things that came out of Drew Justice coming out publicly on Alternative Press, and the response from fans was incredible. People hold these musicians in such high regard. When gay teenagers see their favorite musicians be comfortable in who they are or support organizations that support people in the LGBT community, it really goes a long way for the folks in the closet.
Musicians have such a voice, they reach so many people - way more people than I could ever reach. The idea is to empower the musicians so they can do the heavy lifting. So they can get the message out to the fans that, "It’s ok to be who you are. It’s ok to love who you love." And that’s the whole concept behind Punk Out. Be Punk. Be Out. You can be both of those things.
For more information, check out PunkOut.org.
(Words by Josh. Photos by Colleen Stepanian Photography. Interview date: 7/11/14)
Our friends in Jukebox the Ghost stopped by Audiotree studios in Chicago recently to perform their newest single, “The Great Unknown”, as well as few other brand new tracks from their forthcoming album.
Pedals, the sophomore effort from Austin foursome SPEAK, out now on Playing in Traffic Records, has been getting rave reviews since it’s release - and for good reason. The album is a musical roller coaster, taking you on all the twists and turns and loops - all without that pesky motion sickness.
The album’s synth-infused sounds remains fresh and new throughout the 14 tracks, all without being forced upon you - balancing the white space between foreground and background. Back-to-back songs “Mystery Lights” and “Nightlight” are a perfect example of this. While “Mystery Lights” starts off high, it quickly morphs to a dark and moody tale, just begging to fill in the gaps of a David Lynch script. Meanwhile, “Nightlight” provides an unstoppable beat for 3 minutes and 34 seconds, combined along the way with a few intense riffs and Troupe Gammage’s stellar vocals - which are given the spotlight towards the end of the song in haunting fashion. The film references don’t end there - this entire album is the soundtrack to a movie I want to see.
The beauty of this album is that SPEAK shows you their hand through the first few tracks, then picks and chooses the rest of the way, keeping you guessing, never quite sure what card they’ll play.
After a successful album launch, as well as performing in front of the Firefly Music Festival masses, I’m looking foward to what Gammage and Co. come up with next - especially if they keep teasing my music nerd brain with Pop-era U2 stylings. - J.
Sea Change was an appropriate title for Beck’s acclaimed 2002 record, in more ways than one. While the lyrics marked a dark, serious, and plainspoken change in direction for the songwriter, Sea Change’s powerful bluesy and symphonic folk sound stood out noticeably from any of his previous releases. After twelve years and three additional albums, he’s released Morning Phase - a follow up that was well worth the wait.
Musically, any listener familiar with Sea Change will have no problem instantly recognizing Morning Phase’s place alongside its predecessor. The instrumentation is the same - a small acoustic band paired with light keyboards, electric and slide guitar, and a symphonic string section - and most of the themes remain in one way or another. With its down-tempo and dreamlike feel, Morning Phase makes it seem as though no time has passed at all.
What really makes Morning Phase work, however, is the fact that it comes across as a continuation of Sea Change, rather than a simple rehash. On Sea Change there is a real sense of stepping deeper and deeper into the valley; Morning Phase gives the sensation of working yourself back up into the sunlight. And while the basic elements are pretty much the same, Beck is definitely crafting new songs here that we haven’t seen before. Tracks like “Say Goodbye” and “Turn Away” bring in the influence of standards like Neil Young and Simon & Garfunkel, while still fitting in perfectly as Beck songs. The trancelike “Wave” is probably the darkest moment of the two companion albums and gives the string section a welcome spotlight alongside Beck’s haunting vocals. “Country Down” and “Waking Light” finish the record on its most positive note, with a feeling of hope almost entirely absent on Sea Change. The album ends with a bright guitar riff that sounds like a call back to some of the lighter songs on Mutations - a welcome and surprisingly fitting up note at the end of a moody record that wrestles back and forth between darkness and light.
If there’s one stand-out track on Morning Phase, it would have to be the single “Blue Moon”, which manages to successfully capture all of the album’s themes of grief, isolation, and a growing sense of hope. It’s catchy, memorable, and dreamlike- and probably the most emotionally powerful moment of the whole record.
The bottom line: Don’t let Morning Phase’s status as a companion piece fool you: Beck is breaking new ground here, and every single track is worth exploring. - Paul
The first time I met Greg Holden was about 3 years ago. After only first hearing his music a few months prior, I was fortunate enough to see him in concert at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, and I was blown away by his performance, veteran stage presence, and, after his set, his generosity to meet and greet any fan that hoped to get a word with him - including yours truly.
Holden, currently closing out a tour with A Great Big World and Jukebox the Ghost, hasn’t changed much in that time. His voice is a little rougher, and his songs are bigger and - you could certainly argue - more meaningful, but he is still as generous as ever with his time.
We caught up with him before his recent show in New Jersey - read on to see what he had to say about his life in New York City, the recording of his new album, and what Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World are really like.
You recently celebrated your 5-year anniversary in New York City — Do you have any big takeaways from the last 5 years?
I think the most important thing was not to have too many expectations for the changes you expect in life. I had this big dream of New York being this grand thing, and then it just becomes life, and you get used to it. But it has certainly been an adventurous five years - a lot has happened, a lot has changed. It just feels like home now.
Did you have a set of goals when you set out for New York?
My goal was to live in New York and be a musician, and I achieved that goal very quickly — and now it’s like, “ok, what’s next?”. So it’s been more about figuring out what’s next and what I want to do with my life in a bigger sense.
We spoke on the phone and I talked to him about what I was expecting, what I wanted from my new album, and we kind of gelled as human beings first - on working with Greg Wells
Earlier this year you recorded your new album with Greg Wells, who was worked on a number of big name, high profile projects — Did you seek him out specifically for this album? Was there a relationship there beforehand?
No, I was working with a label at the time and we were looking for producers for the record, and his was one of the names that came up. I actually hadn’t heard of Greg, but we spoke on the phone and I talked to him about what I was expecting, what I wanted from my new album, and we kind of gelled as human beings first and then I kind of looked at what he’d done as well and it seemed like the right step to go in. My last record, I made it with a very, um, left-of-center producer, and this time I wanted to go right, and see what would come out of it. And it was a really good partnership.
Do you have a release date for the new album?
No release date yet. I just signed a new record deal with Warner Brothers and we’re about to put together a new plan to put it out — probably be January of next year.
Were you looking for a new label when Warner Brothers came along?
Yeah, I was looking for a label. I’ve spent most of my career avoiding labels — I just didn’t have the right vibe… the things that labels were offering wasn’t anything that I was concerned with. I think for this album, as soon as I went with a more popular producer, and my songs are a lot bigger now, I wanted to try it out, wanted to see where I could take this instead of staying completely independent. I want to remain independent as best I can but at a certain point, you have to give up some of that control, and trust that they know best.
You’ve been very critical of Spotify in the past — Do you think there’s a better streaming service model out there?
The streaming thing is still something that we are all yet to see if its gonna work for lesser known artists. I still don’t really agree with Spotify, still don’t completely agree with it’s model at this point, but I got to a point where I realized that I was cutting off my nose to spite my face. So people couldn’t hear my music because I was being stubborn. So it’s like, “you know what, I should just suck it up and put it on there”. Hopefully the model will get better in a way that it will help more artists get paid properly, because right now it’s not. Who knows, this is such an unpredictable time for the music industry that we don’t know if this model is just going to crash and burn or if it’s going to be the future of music. In ten years we’ll look back and be, “oh, ok, that did work”. Like iTunes — when iTunes first came out, everyone was like, “that’s never gonna work”, and it did.
You’ve been involved in a number of charity efforts recently, from your single “The Lost Boy” to the sale of the photos from your trip to India - Have you always been active in charity efforts? Was there something that prompted this kind of activity?
I’ve always been charity minded, I just never was in a situation where I could give anything. And now — and it’s like i’m giving my own money away all the time — I’m trying to do it in a way that’s not preachy, and to use my art to do it as well. In the last couple years I started questing why I was doing music and why I was writing these songs, and was there a more positive thing that i could be doing, while trying to become a successful musician. My mindset changed a little bit, I’m certainly trying to find more ways to do it.
They’re now these superstars, hanging out with the most famous people in the world and they’re still just Ian and Chad. - on how the A Great Big World duo hasn’t changed at all
Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World have been friends of yours for a long time — Do you have any good dirt on them? Something to ground them if they ever got too big for themselves?
The most amazing thing about Ian and Chad is they haven’t changed a bit. They’re now these superstars, hanging out with the most famous people in the world and they’re still just Ian and Chad - it’s so hilarious. I almost wish they would be more diva-ish. Unfortunately I don’t have any dirt on them, they’re still squeaky clean.
(Words and Photos by Josh. Interview date: 6/21/14)
Music, at its most basic level, is art. Art that exists to be seen, to be experienced, to be felt. The best music – regardless of the genre – is that which makes you feel something: happiness, melancholy, laughter, tears – anything and everything on the emotional spectrum. While A Great Big World’s latest tour, with support from Jukebox the Ghost and Greg Holden, doesn’t have a name per se, to call it – with apologies to Kris Kristofferson – the Once More With Feeling Tour wouldn’t be far off.
The night started off with Brooklyn-based – by way of Aberdeen, Scotland – singer-songwriter Greg Holden. Holden, who has toured with backing musicians in the past, took the stage alone for an all-too-short six-song set. He may not be a household name, but his music certainly is. Holden co-wrote the song “Home”, which American Idol-winner Phillip Phillips would perform on national television and then go on to sell more than 5 million copies of.
Holden’s honest, heart-on-his-sleeves performance quickly won the crowd over – playing through “I Don’t Believe You” and “The American Dream” before unveiling a new, bigger song, “Give It Away”. He followed that up with “Boys In The Street”, an emotional tale about a father dealing with his feelings about his gay son. Written for Everyone Is Gay’s The Gayest Compilation Ever Made, vol. 2, the song’s final verse produced a cheer from the crowd – followed by a very loud “Thank you Greg!”, from one audience member in the back.
The crowd – which really should have been billed as the fourth act of the night – then provided pitch-perfect callbacks during Holden’s rendition of “Home”, as well as hitting all of the prompts during his final number.
Jukebox The Ghost’s Tommy Siegel, Jesse Kristin, and Ben Thornewill
Next up was the thoroughly enjoyable Jukebox the Ghost. The trio – Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel, and Jesse Kristin – play with so much energy and abandon, it’s hard not to smile as you sing along. Listening to them play through the Thornewill-led “Adulthood”, “Somebody”, and “The Great Unknown” – co-written by Holden – as well as the Siegel-fronted “Emily” and “Say When”, two things are inherently obvious. First, Thornewill’s vocal range runs the gamut from Elton John to Billy Joel to Rufus Wainwright and everyone in between, with Siegel’s vocals acting as a perfect compliment. And second, these three can fill out a room like nobody’s business.
Their sound is so full and vibrant, I have no doubt they would out-play a room of any size. Their penultimate song – and, for me, the highlight of the entire night – was their rendition of Queen’s “Somebody To Love”. What I wouldn’t give for an actual recording of that performance. Thornewill, Siegel, and Kristin all played the hell out of that song – holding nothing back throughout their take on this near-40-year-old tune.
After Jukebox’s dust had a chance to settle and the lights dimmed, A Great Big World “opened” their set with “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, before finally taking the stage to a thunderous cheer. Once again, the crowd did not disappoint, hitting every note of “Rockstar” and “Land Of Opportunity” while singer and piano-man Ian Axel tried to break his stool – something that he has quite a propensity for (at least according to their latest YouTube videos). And who can blame him? A Great Big World exploded practically overnight on to the pop scene, and every blast of that is carried over on to the stage. Axel, along with singer and sometimes guitarist, sometimes trumpeter Chad Vaccarino are larger-than-life characters in person – taking nothing less than pure delight and joy from their performance and interactions with the crowd.
Those characterizations extend to the rest of the band as well – each member adorned in shinier pants than the last. During this brief pause one audience member called out, “I love your pants!”
“Whose pants?” Axel adeptly responded.
These breaks were few and far between as they ripped through their own equality anthem, “Everyone Is Gay”, followed by “Already Home”, and “This Is The New Year”, all the while playing their slower, quieter songs in “I Don’t Want To Love Somebody Else” and the ubiquitous “Say Something” – the latter of which brought the crowd noise down to a whisper, giving Axel’s ballad the spotlight.
If A Great Big World’s non-stop touring schedule is any indication of this band’s efforts to take over the pop music world, they surely have the energy and the will to make it happen. Watching Axel, Vaccarino, and Co. perform – seeing them bounce and spin and sing – is infectious. It’s hard not to walk away feeling happy and fulfilled – an experience I can only hope to have again in the future.
(Words and Photos by Josh. Show date: 6/21/14)
Everyone Is Gay works to improve the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning/Queer (LGBTQ) youth using a three-pronged approach: providing honest advice to youth while keeping them laughing; talking to students in an effort to create caring, compassionate school environments; and working with parents of LGBTQ kids to help foster an ongoing dialogue and deeper understanding. (source: everyoneisgay.com)
In addition to all this great work, they have released two compilation albums. The first of which, released in 2012, contains the first appearance of A Great Big World’s “Everyone Is Gay”. The second, released earlier this year, features Holden’s “Boys In The Street”, as well as many, many others.
Note: Emo At Heart’s photo coverage for the event was limited to Jukebox the Ghost only. Stay tuned to Emo At Heart for our full interviews with Greg Holden and Jukebox the Ghost